Buddhism (Pali/Sanskrit: Buddha Dharma) is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha (Pāli/Sanskrit “the awakened one”). The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (or dukkha), achieve nirvana, and escape what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth.
Two major branches of Buddhism are recognized: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Theravada—the oldest surviving branch—has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Mahayana is found throughout East Asia and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en. In some classifications Vajrayana—a subcategory of Mahayana practiced inTibet andMongolia—is recognized as a third branch. While Buddhism remains most popular withinAsia, both branches are now found throughout the world. Estimates of Buddhists worldwide vary significantly depending on the way Buddhist adherence is defined. Lower estimates are between 350–500 million.
Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices. The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Taking “refuge in the triple gem” has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Other practices may include following ethical precepts, support of the monastic community, renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic, the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation, cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment, study of scriptures,devotional practices, ceremonies, and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
The evidence of the early textssuggests that the Buddha was born in a community that was on the periphery, both geographically and culturally, of the northeastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE. It was either a small republic, in which case his father was an elected chieftain, or an oligarchy, in which case his father was an oligarch. According to the Theravada Tipitaka scriptures (from Pali, meaning “three baskets”), the Buddha was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu.
According to this narrative, shortly after the birth of young prince Siddhartha Gautama, an astrologer visited the young prince’s father—King Śuddhodana—and prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls.
Śuddhodana was determined to see his son become a king so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father’s efforts, Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encounters—known in Buddhist literature as the four sights he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.
Gautama first went to study with famous religious teachers of the day, and mastered the meditative attainments they taught. But he found that they did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his quest. He next attempted an extreme asceticism, which was a religious pursuit common among the Shramanas, a religious culture distinct from the Vedic one. Gautama underwent prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain. He almost starved himself to death in the process. He realized that he had taken this kind of practice to its limit, and had not put an end to suffering. So in a pivotal moment he accepted milk and rice from a village girl and changed his approach. He devoted himself to anapanasati meditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way (Skt. madhyamā-pratipad): a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
Gautama was now determined to complete his spiritual quest. At the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree — known as the Bodhi tree — in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achievingenlightenment. After many days, he finally destroyed the fetters of his mind, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being (Skt. samyaksaṃbuddha). Soon thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he discovered, traveling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India.
Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha’s life. Most accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order but do not consistently accept all of the details contained in his biographies.According to author Michael Carrithers, while there are good reasons to doubt the traditional account, “the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death.”
Karma (from Sanskrit: “action, work”) in Buddhism is the force that drives saṃsāra—the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful deeds (Pāli: “kusala”) and bad, unskillful (Pāli: “akusala”) actions produce “seeds” in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called śīla (from Sanskrit: “ethical conduct”).
In Buddhism, karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (“cetana”), and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, “phala“) or result (“vipāka“).
In Theravada Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one’s karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the makeup of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions hold different views. For example, the texts of certain Mahayana sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great swathes of negative karma. Some forms of Buddhism (for example, Vajrayana) regard the recitation of mantras as a means for cutting off previous negative karma. The JapanesePure Land teacher Genshin taught that Amida Buddha has the power to destroy the karma that would otherwise bind one in saṃsāra.
Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conceptionto death. Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism and Christianity. According to Buddhism there ultimately is no such thing as a self independent from the rest of the universe (the doctrine of anatta). Rebirth in subsequent existences must be understood as the continuation of a dynamic, ever-changing process of “dependent arising” (“pratītyasamutpāda“) determined by the laws of cause and effect (karma) rather than that of one being, transmigrating or incarnating from one existence to the next.
Naraka beings: those who live in one of many Narakas (Hells)
Animals: sharing space with humans, but considered another type of life.
Human beings: one of the realms of rebirth in which attaining Nirvana is possible.
Asuras: variously translated as lowly deities, demons, titans, antigods; not recognized by Theravāda (Mahavihara) tradition as a separate realm
Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the Śuddhāvāsa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by skilled Buddhist practitioners known as anāgāmis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the arūpajhānas, the highest object of meditation.
According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state (Tibetan “Bardo”) between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravada position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon (the collection of texts on which the Theravada tradition is based), that seem to lend support to the idea that the Buddha taught of an intermediate stage between one life and the next.
Sentient beings crave pleasure and are averse to pain from birth to death. In being controlled by these attitudes, they perpetuate the cycle of conditioned existence and suffering (saṃsāra), and produce the causes and conditions of the next rebirth after death. Each rebirth repeats this process in an involuntary cycle, which Buddhists strive to end by eradicating these causes and conditions, applying the methods laid out by the Buddha and subsequent Buddhists.
Suffering’s causes and solution.
The Four Noble Truths
According to the Pali Tipitaka and the Āgamas of other early Buddhist schools, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana. They are sometimes considered to contain the essence of the Buddha’s teachings:
Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness (dukkha) in one way or another.
Suffering is caused by craving. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness. Craving also has its negative aspect, i.e. one craves that a certain state of affairs not exist. Suffering ends when craving ends. This is achieved by eliminating delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment (bodhi);
Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the path laid out by the Buddha. This method is described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers (for example, the Dalai Lama).
According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars, the “truths” do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two:
Suffering and causes of suffering.
Cessation and the paths towards liberation from suffering.
Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism they are
“The noble truth that is suffering”
“The noble truth that is the arising of suffering”
“The noble truth that is the end of suffering”
“The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering”
The traditional Theravada understanding is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The East Asian Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings.
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path—the fourth of the Buddha’s Noble Truths—is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word “samyak” (Sanskrit, meaning “correctly”, “properly”, or “well”, frequently translated into English as “right”), and presented in three groups known as the three higher trainings. (NB: Pāli transliterations appear in brackets after Sanskrit ones):
Prajñā is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes: dṛṣṭi (ditthi): viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be; and saṃkalpa (sankappa): intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.
Śīla is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes: vāc (vāca): speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way; karman (kammanta): acting in a non-harmful way and ājīvana (ājīva): a non-harmful livelihood.
Samādhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one’s own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes: vyāyāma (vāyāma): making an effort to improve, smṛti (sati): awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion and samādhi (samādhi): correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhānas.
The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.
The Middle Way
An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way (or Middle Path), which is said to have been discovered by Gautama Buddha prior to his enlightenment. TheMiddle Way has several definitions:
- The practice of non-extremism: a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification
- The middle ground between certain metaphysical views (for example, that things ultimately either do or do not exist)
- An explanation of Nirvana (perfect enlightenment), a state wherein it becomes clear that all dualities apparent in the world are delusory (see Seongcheol).
Another term for emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena (in the Mahayana branch), a lack of inherent existence, which avoids the extremes of permanence and nihilism or inherent existence and nothingness.
Nature of existence
Buddhist scholars have produced a remarkable quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts (see, for example, Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism). Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, and some regard it as essential, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some persons at some stages in Buddhist practice.
In the earliest Buddhist teachings, shared to some extent by all extant schools, the concept of liberation (Nirvana)—the goal of the Buddhist path—is closely related to the correct understanding of how the mind causes stress. In awakening to the true nature of clinging, one develops dispassion for the objects of clinging, and is liberated from suffering (dukkha) and the cycles of rebirth.
Following is a link to an illustrated calendar of Buddhist holy days and festivals http://buddhism.about.com/od/buddhistholidays/tp/buddhistholidays.htm